To say it was a busy few months for NXT superstar Rhea Ripley would be an understatement.
The 23-year-old Australian appears everywhere on both “Raw” and “SmackDown” facing Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair and then leading his team to victory in NXT TakeOver: WarGames, followed by scoring the winning pin on Sasha Banks for her team in the WWE Survivor Series.
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While all this was going on, Ripley was on a collision course with NXT women’s champion Shayna Baszler who dominated the division for more than a year. But the 416-day domination ended late Wednesday night on NXT television when Ripley defeated her in an emotional race with fans celebrating in the ring with her to close the show.
Sporting News has talked to Ripley about her big win in recent months as she was about the next new NXT women’s champion.
Sport News: Congratulations on your great victory. What did you do to celebrate later?
RHEA RIPLEY: I couldn’t sleep because I had so much adrenaline, so me and my partner and our friend ordered a pizza. Man, I had no pizza in a while, so it was good. It was good pizza.
SN: I think you win it.
RR: For sure. We were there for 26 minutes. Yes, I definitely needed a pizza (laughs).
SN: As the tax was the race, you celebrated with the fans for at least another five minutes.
RR: That was tiring. That was very, very tiring. I was legally in a pit mosh. In mosh pits, you’re struggling to survive, so I felt in the crowd and got in the ring. It was so tiring and then people were like “Do another round, do another round!” I was like ‘guys, you don’t understand. I just fought for 26 minutes. I don’t know if I can do another round. Okay, here we go. Let’s do it.’
We ended up stealing some fans’ sunnies (sunglasses) and wearing them at some point. I don’t know what happened in my mind. I was like, ‘I’ll take these, I’ll bring them back’. I put them on and started running. I was excited.
SN: I saw the video and got some Mado Madness sunglasses. I was wondering if you would give them back but you did.
RR: (Laughter) I know. I thought about it. I was like these are really cool. Maybe I’ll keep them, but no. I have to give them back.
SN: Who was the first one to call when you got into the closet?
RR: I called my partner. Seeing the people behind the scenes and seeing them so proud of me and so happy and applauding Shayna and I was such an awesome feeling. But after all that, I finally got the change and somehow calmed down and then called my partner Kevin. It’s funny because when he was answering the phone, he was there with one of our friends and as soon as he answered the phone, I had to stick it out of my ear because they were just shouting. NO WE ARE THE CHAMPION! OH MY GOD!!!!’ (Laughter) It was so annoying. I’m glad he wasn’t a speaker.
SN: Take me through that day. When you prepare for this great race created on live television, are you more nervous or excited? What goes through your mind during the day leading up to the race?
RR: Of course, it’s always going to be nerve-wracking, mainly because it’s live TV and I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to tear up. I do not like to tear in any way. This is always on my mind. Really, I wasn’t sleeping much the night before, so I woke up very early and had to be at Full Sail at 10:30 pm. So, I woke up, I had to get ready. It took me forever to choose what to wear at Full Sail which never happens because my wardrobe is just like black clothes. That’s all I have. Everything looks the same so I don’t know why it took me so long, but it did take me a while to pick these things up.
And then it took me a while to put on my makeup because everything has to be perfect for tonight. I just wanted everything to be as perfect as possible. I finally got to Full Sail and sat down from 10:30 to 2:00 with only my own thoughts, waiting for someone to tell me what was going on. Then I was told that it really didn’t need to be there, so it was cool (laughs).
We would get up in the morning normally and go there everyone pumped up and hot, but I didn’t have time, because I thought I needed to be there for something, but obviously I got the wrong email. So, I’m sitting there with my own thoughts, working on myself, working on the nerves, and just getting a little bored. I didn’t go out to eat breakfast, so I went to Starbucks and had two skeptical ones and I only ate until 5:30 because after 2 I was legal running around shooting so many different things. I didn’t have time to think. I didn’t have time to sit, eat, drink water or anything. I was so dehydrated and so hungry. I didn’t have time to think. Then, I finally got to eat around 5:30 after filming everyone, then changed to 6.
I probably had one more thing to shoot and then I finally got to relax and think about everything that was going on that day because it was such a great day for me. It’s a huge day for my career, and it’s a huge day overall, so you can finally sit down and think about it and then warm up and prepare for the race. It was definitely something. To go out there with Shayna Baszler and put in what we did with the amount of time we did at the point we did was absolutely amazing. Whatever I did that day leading up to it, I wouldn’t change anything, even if it didn’t eat until 5:30.
SN: You have won other tournaments before including the NXT UK Women’s Championship. How does this compare?
RR: Being the first NXT UK women’s champion was just an absolute honor and a privilege in itself. Being able to build this brand and make it into what it is today is absolutely amazing. I’m glad they had that great faith in me, but now to become the NXT Women’s Champion, to be the first to hold a UK brand title and the American brand is just incredible. This is historical in itself and I like to make history. I absolutely love making history.
For me, I guess there is a different feeling for both of them. In the United Kingdom, it was like having a big league. I have to help build this company, build this brand and have stress on my shoulders all the time to get what they need and make people stay tuned and watch because online, in Twitter, I read a lot of things. I don’t miss it too much and many people were like shit to me to be in the UK. What does this mean; Not an achievement. This is not the main roster. This is not NXT.
So I had to help convince people that the United Kingdom is a great brand and there are so many competitors out there that work so hard for their points. That was the stress in itself so now that you become the NXT Women’s Champion, there is a different stress.
Shayna held the title for such a long time. He was one of the most important champions. So for me, it’s scary, but at the same time, I have confidence in myself that I can do it. All I have to do is go out weekly and prove to everyone that I can compete as well as Shayna Baszler and I can prove to everyone that I deserve to be here. I will work as hard as I can to show everyone what I deserve.
SN: You met Shayna in August just four months ago. What’s this time between then and now that you beat her for the championship?
RR: It was a wild, wildly emotional adventure train to say the least! It’s been such a huge few months for me from NXT UK, then faced with Shayna and the reaction I made. I didn’t expect this. Everyone seemed so excited and dug so hard for me to come out and confront Shayna. It was incredible. I was like, “Okay, these people are really behind me,” which then helped me with my confidence. It helped me with everything we had done from being at WarGames, the Survivor Series, everything that had arrived that night. It’s definitely a train of emotions and it’s a wild, wild course and I’m not really about to stop. I’m ready to move on.
SN: Triple H is obviously a strong presence in your career as it is for so many other people, especially in NXT. What did he tell you after the fight?
RR: He was pretty much saying how proud he is of me and that means a lot coming from him, someone I’ve seen up to for the longest time. That’s why I started watching the fight. That is why I started to fight and why I am here today. So to tell him to be proud of me and to really believe in me and give me the focus I’ve always wanted is an amazing feeling. I can not describe it. There are no words to describe it. I’m proud to be proud. Just keep going for how I deserve it.
SN: Not to get carried away right now, but have you thought about what will happen next?
RR: I’m just letting it go and see where it gets. Obviously, we all want to get to the top of everyone, so I’ll keep working, keep my head down, keep running, and if anyone wants to come and challenge me for the title, I’m ready for them . I’ll keep working until I get to the top. If it means WrestleMania, it means WrestleMania is the main event. Right now, I’m looking forward to defending my NXT Women’s Championship.